The Great Outdoors

July 2, 2008
By Tyler Adkins, Pfafftown, NC

Since I was very young, I have enjoyed being alone, and have forever sought out the most remote and forgotten places in order to slake my thirst for solitude. When I was little, I accomplished this by going into the thick path of forest behind our home, what then seemed to me to be the wildest edge of the unchartered wilderness. Waking early in the morning, I would begin the intricate rituals of dressing myself, leaving the house, walking over the vacant field, and finally standing full of wondrous anticipation at the edge of the forest’s dappled shadow. Then, with all the sacred determination of a Siberian shaman descending into some holy cavern of meditation, I stepped triumphantly beyond the threshold and immediately ceased to be Tyler, the third grader who could not write and could barely read. I became instead a disembodied mind, completely free of shame and concern and obligation, completely at liberty to explore a green and enchanted domain which expected nothing more of me than to merely exist.

It is perhaps because of this early predilection for solitude, or maybe one of the causes of it, that I have long had a great deal of difficulty trying to understand and relate to others. From my earliest days, I have always found myself incapable of seeing and feeling in the same way as those around me; I was, as Poe writes in the poem which I have come to love and hold on to so ferociously:

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were- I have not seen

As other saw-I could not bring
My passions from a common spring
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I lov’d, I lov’d alone
As a young child this did not cause me any great deal of anxiety, nor did it visibly distinguish me in any way from peers, as many children at that age tend towards shyness and reticence. But as I grew older, and my classmates began to form relationships and interact with one another in a mature and confident manner, I became more and more aware of my fundamental inability to enter into the same new world, a fact which began to cause me increasingly deeper pain. I felt as though I was failing in my duty to participate in society, failing to take advantage of some kind of opportunity for happiness that everyone else had already grasped. Even among the small group of acquaintances I managed to form, I was perennially an outsider. It was not that I did not enjoy being with others, I earnestly wanted to join the rest of society, but try as I might, I still felt a kind of awkwardness, an inability to see and feel from everyone else’s level that hampered me from forging intimate personal ties . I would imagine that there was some individual change I could effect, a variation in voice or mannerism perhaps, which would finally grant me access to human relationship. No such change existed of course, and I began to believe that my path in life was only wide enough for one.
Time wore on nonetheless, and year by year I grew more and more conscious of both my mental isolation from others and the increasing amount of effort I was forced to give in order to maintain the illusion through which I interacted with others. Even my journeys into the forest, once my only asylum and place of holy solitude, had been marred by the endless presence of self-doubt in my mind, and what was once my best beloved place was slowly transformed into the battlefield in which I waged the first skirmishes of war with depression.
Summer, however, offered some small balm, freeing me once more to seek out the forgotten corners of the woodland, tainted and troubled though they now were, and try with sorrowful desperation to revive the joy I once felt in the unquestioning wildness of nature. Summer travels, too, brought a welcome deal of nepenthe, and on one such excursion I found myself on the barnacled shores of Monhegan Island, Maine. It is difficult to imagine any place as remote ( and by extension favorable to me) than that lone speck of rock and timber; It was nestled deep in the folds of the bruise-blue north Atlantic, rising at places to picturesque escarpments and cliff faces, and at others plunging down to inaccessible grey pebble beaches. The vast majority of the island that was not sheer cliff face was occupied by stands of squat, weathered pine, oak, and maple, clinging to the land’s rough contours in such absurd and painful angles that it appeared as though He who had made this island had not originally intended it to be the home of vegetable life.
The gateway through which I first entered the island was the anachronistic collection of rugged buildings which served as the only settlement in the lonely place and the home to the numerous forlorn artists, hermits, and fisherman who composed Monhegan’s paltry body of inhabitants. As modest as the sleepy port was, to me, it was Camelot, Shangri-La, Atlantis, the City of The Gods; at every weathered, peeling door I knew not whether to expect a wiry, bespectacled painter to appear, or some gigantic member of a forgotten race who had long ago departed the mundane world of the shore. The singular, thrilling nature of the village immediately put me in an adventurous state of mind, and only about an hour after our arrival I concluded to hike the narrow path which led to the island’s highest promontory.
Monhegan was like a world in miniature; as we struggled higher and higher up the island’s heights we passed along deserted stone beaches, still, silent bogs, dizzying cliffs, and great stands of gnarled pines, each appearing dreamlike and alien in the fast approaching dusk. At last, after over an hour of traveling the rough, winding path, we came to the greatest of Monhegan’s natural wonders: a tremendous, soaring headland, rising out the island proper like the prow of a ship or a minister’s pulpit, cast in vibrant shades of blue and orange by the setting sun.
Sitting there, on the edge of that colossal crag, watching the sun set over the distant coastline to the west, I felt neither any great awe nor adventurous exhilaration. Rather, I felt a profound sense of wellbeing, one which I had not felt since my childhood ramblings in the forest. In this moment of renewed serenity and fulfillment, I also came to the realization that I had found this place, not through suppressing or trying to bend my own nature to match that of those around me, but by embracing and following my name. No longer would I doubt or hate my own peculiarities and differences; never again would I place responsibility for my own happiness in anyone’s hands but my own. From that day forward I vowed silently in my mind to be content with the path that was set before me, and know that whatever hardships or loneliness that I met with were for a reason. Several years have now passed since that day on the rocks, and I still struggle to fulfill my vow to myself, and, although I still often feel detached or removed from my peers, or feel as though I have missed something everyone else has found, I can say now that I am at least more content about my own place in the world.

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